On the day millions of Christians celebrated Jesus’ resurrection, NBC aired the live performance of the latest iteration of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which ends with the crucifixion. The ending has been a source of controversy generated by this thrilling and moving musical since it initially appeared in the early 1970’s when I first saw it. But doesn’t the gospel of Mark end that way?
Well, not exactly.
In Mark 16:6 (NIV), we read: “He has risen! He is not here.” While this is similar to the gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John, the similarity ends there. In Matthew, Luke, and John, the women who first went to the tomb not only encountered an angel (or maybe two) who proclaimed the resurrection (as it was proclaimed in Mark), the women left the tomb to find the disciples and give them the incredible news. And from there, the gospel was proclaimed around the world.
Mark ends with shocking brevity: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8, NIV) For a long time, most versions of the Bible added verses 9-20 to Mark 16–verses that conformed Mark’s ending with that of the other three gospels. However, more recently, most versions of the Bible have a footnote that says something like: “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses or documents do not have verses 9-20.” This discovery has given Bible scholars much to research, write, and discuss, particularly since Mark was written well before the other three gospels.
So what? Indeed.
The gospels don’t correspond precisely with each other. Some accounts of events or sayings in one gospel don’t appear at all in the others. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that a work of art like “Jesus Christ Superstar” takes certain liberties with the way it begins, portrays the middle, or cuts the end short. It is designed to challenge traditional thinking and inspire a different look at something believers hold dear, much as the gospel of Mark does.
In any event, the resurrection–or the crucifixion, for that matter– doesn’t have to be proved. They are not matters of proof–but faith.
The majesty of “Jesus Christ Superstar” does nothing but increase my faith.